Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sara Dykins Callahan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ying Zhu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Foley, MFA


Afro-Caribbean dance, black identity, dance anthropology, diaspora, modern dance


The interdisciplinary field of Dance Studies as a separate arena focusing on the social, political, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of human movement and dance emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dance criticism integrated Dance Studies into the academy as critics addressed the social and cultural significance of dance. In particular, Jane Desmond created an integrated approach engaging dance history and cultural studies; in the framework of her findings, dance is read as a primary social text. She emphasizes that movement style is an important mode of distinction between social groups, serving as a marker for the production of gender, racial, ethnic, and national identities.

In my work, I examined the ways in which the African American identity articulates and constructs itself through dance. Norman Bryson, an art historian, suggests that approaches from art history, film and comparative literature are as well applicable to the field of dance research. Therefore, as my main critical lens and a theoretical foundation, I adopt the analytical approach developed by Erwin Panofsky, an art historian and a proponent of integrated critical approach, much like the one suggested by Bryson; specifically, his three-tiered method of analysis (iconology). I demonstrate that Erwin Panofsky's iconology, when applied as a research method, can make valuable contributions to the field of Dance Studies. This method was originally developed as a tool to analyze static art pieces; I explore to which extent this method

is applicable to doing a close reading of dance by testing the method as an instrument and discovering its limitations.

As primary sources, I used Katherine Dunham's original recordings of diaspora dances of the Caribbean and her modern dance choreography titled L'Ag'Ya to look for evidence for the paradigm shift from "primitive" to "diaspora" in representation of Black identity in dance also with the aim of detecting the elements that produce cultural difference in dance.